The work of Jim Henson has yielded plenty of fond memories for children of all ages, from his creative connections on Sesame Street to The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. Even lesser-seen Muppet endeavors like Emmitt Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977) and The Christmas Toy (1986) brought us warm tales told from an almost-human perspective. Henson's untimely death at the age of 53 cut short a career filled with success and creativity, yet his legacy of memorable characters will never be forgotten. His last feature-length directorial effort was Labyrinth (1986), a coming-of-age tale mixing humans with his unique brand of characters to create a fantasy film bursting with style and charm.
Our story follows Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a 15 year-old whose intense love for fantasy worlds overshadows her increasing responsibility at home. Sentenced to baby-sit her brother Toby while her father and stepmother enjoy an evening out, Sarah becomes increasingly annoyed with this rude interruption of her blossoming imagination. Determined to rid herself of such adult responsibilities, the young girl wishes for the Goblin King (David Bowie)---a character in her favorite book, "Labyrinth"---to take the child away to his faraway kingdom.
Unfortunately, it works.
The resulting tale takes Sarah to the world of the Goblin King, whose labyrinth must be solved in 13 hours if she wants to rescue her brother. Immediately regretful of her immature wish, Sarah begins her quest to the center of the maze, past Goblin City to the King's castle. As with most tales of fantasy (from The Wizard of Oz to Pan's Labyrinth), unusual characters are met along the way and everything is not always what it seems. Hidden passageways are as common as talking worms and gravity-defying staircases. Watching from the comfort of the castle is the Goblin King (named Jareth), who occasionally interferes with Sarah's progress while nursing a certain level of respect and affection for the girl.
The goal of returning home with her brother is almost pushed to the background; more than anything else, Labyrinth is about the journey, not the destination. Along the way, she learns how to accept help from others and when to trust her own instincts. We receive not-so-subtle hints about her feelings for Jareth, especially during a dream-like trance after Sarah eats a mysterious piece of fruit. In one particularly clever sequence, she's tempted with the promises of toys and memories from her childhood if she agrees to stop looking for the maze's center.
Musical numbers are also commonplace during Labyrinth (penned and often performed by Bowie), but it's only here---as well as during a few visual effects shots---that the film shows a bit of age. Aside from these small instances, the tale of Labyrinth is practically timeless: as a young woman slowly makes her way to adulthood, the challenge of staying focused and determined is often overcome by her own imagination. As evidenced by the film's celebratory ending, though, keeping such colorful dreams alive---even during our later years---is still an important balance.
Originally released on DVD in 2000 (a solid one-disc affair), 2003 (a slightly sharper Superbit title) and 2004 (a pricey Collector's Edition with cool packaging and a few more extras), this fourth release of Labyrinth hopes to be the most well-rounded of them all. For the most part, it succeeds admirably: the visuals have never looked better and the new bonus features are terrific, but a few earlier audio mixes haven't made the cut this time around. Still, most will find this new "Anniversary Edition" (the 21st, apparently) worth the quadruple dip. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Technical Presentation & Subtitles
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, Labyrinth only shows hints of its age during a few visual effects sequences. The slightly surreal color palette looks bold and natural, from the coolness of the opening scene to the earthy tones of the labyrinth itself. This is advertised as a new high-definition transfer of the film---and though owners of the Superbit release or the 2004 Collector's Edition may not notice a marked difference, the transfer looks extremely clean and polished. Black levels are generally deep, though a few dimly-lit sequences look a bit washed out (due to the source material, no doubt). Virtually free of edge enhancement and other digital eyesores, it's tough to complain about the visual presentation overall.
Also on board is the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as several earlier releases, as well as Japanese 5.1 and Portuguese 2.0 dubs. It's a shame the dubs couldn't have been dropped in favor of the Superbit's DTS track or the earlier 2.0 mix, but most fans shouldn't find many complaints overall. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, while music and sound effects help to fill the surround channels without fighting for attention. Optional English, French, Japanese and Portuguese subtitles are included during the main feature...but they don't cover the music numbers, so good luck deciphering some of the lyrics.
Menu Design, Chapters & Packaging
Seen above, the surprisingly dull menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 101-minute main feature has been divided into 28 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This two-disc release is housed in a black hinged keepcase, which also includes a sturdy lenticular slipcover and a promotional insert.
From top to bottom, fans should enjoy this potent mix of new and old extras alike.
Leading things off on Disc 1 is a brand new Audio Commentary with conceptual designer Brian Froud, who does a fine job of detailing his role in the production. Similar to his recent commentary for The Dark Crystal, Froud doesn't take a lot of breaks here; additionally, his well-spoken delivery keeps things moving along nicely. Though it's odd we didn't get a few more participants (especially since we'll hear from many more crew members on Disc 2), fans of Labyrinth should certainly appreciate and enjoy Froud's comments.
Disc 2 kicks off with "Inside the Labyrinth" (56:24, below left), a vintage making-of documentary that fans should remember from earlier DVD release. This is simply a terrific documentary from start to finish, featuring comments from David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Jim Henson and other members of the cast and crew. There's a solid amount of behind-the-scenes footage here, from original character designs to rehearsal footage recorded on the set. From top to bottom, it's easy to see that Labyrinth was a labor of love for the cast and crew.
Getting back to the new material, we're also treated to a two-part documentary entitled "Journey through the Labyrinth". Divided into "Kingdom of Characters" (27:57) and "The Quest for Goblin City" (30:02, above right), this recent collection of retrospective interviews is entertaining and well-organized. Featuring comments by voice actors David Goelz & Brian Henson, producer George Lucas, designer Brian Froud, puppeteers Karen Prell & Jane Gootnick and choreographer Gates McFadden, both parts do a fine job of detailing the production and its impact. Additionally, newly discovered test and pre-production footage from the set has been peppered throughout, balancing out these segments nicely.
Also returning from previous DVD releases is a collection of Galleries featuring behind-the-scenes photos, the cast, character designs, concept art, posters and storyboards. These prove to be a bit small in size (and occasionally in content, like the poster section), but what's here should please fans. Closing things out is handful of Previews for upcoming Sony DVDs, including the 30th Anniversary release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the recent release of The Dark Crystal. The only extra that didn't get ported over from previous releases is a worn-out 1.33:1 trailer for the main feature.
Fortunately, all bonus features have been presented in anamorphic widescreen---except for "Inside the Labyrinth", which appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Portuguese fans should consider themselves lucky: they're the only ones who get optional subtitles for the extras, right down to the audio commentary. Aside from this small blemish (and the lack of participation by Bowie and Connelly), the presentation of these bonus features is top-notch.
Creative, colorful and almost timeless, Jim Henson's Labyrinth stands tall as an entertaining fantasy film that families can still enjoy together. This light coming-of-age tale is supported nicely by a strong atmosphere and memorable characters; while the performances of David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly aren't necessarily perfect, they're good enough to carry the weight. Sony's two-disc DVD package is the most polished yet, boasting a solid technical presentation and a wonderful new assortment of bonus features. This isn't quite a definitive package (in the audio department, specifically), but those with fond memories of Labyrinth shouldn't mind making the upgrade at all. Firmly Recommended for the young at heart.
DVD Talk Review Links: The Dark Crystal | The Muppet Show | Sesame Street: Old School, Vol. 1
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.